Here is the thing about California’s bad roads: They cause bipartisan tire damage.
Republicans and Democrats and Libertarians alike bounce along roads and highways that jostle nerves and front-end alignments.
It doesn’t matter where you live and drive. It could be the notorious Los Angeles freeways, a Bay Area expressway or a rural Valley highway. There are pitted and crumbling roads everywhere you look in the Golden State.
On Wednesday, the Fix Our Roads coalition – composed of elected officials, construction companies and building trade unions – will mass in Sacramento to urge that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators approve transportation tax and fee hikes, citing estimates that there is a $130 billion maintenance backlog. They have a point.
Although some people debate the size of the backlog, anyone who has blown a tire by driving over a pothole or swerved to miss one knows there are real costs and dangers to our disintegrating roads. The state needs to step up.
Brown’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year offers a solution in the form of proposed tax and fee hikes to generate $4.3 billion for roads and transportation, $43 billion over 10 years.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, is proposing a $5.5 billion plan. Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, suggests $6 billion.
Because Democrats hold two-thirds majorities in both houses, they could approve gasoline tax increases and road-related fee hikes without Republican support.
That would be a mistake. Any smart solution would be bipartisan. The goal ought to be to fill potholes, ease gridlock, widen roads and improve public transit. That should not be a partisan issue.
Brown and legislators propose to pay for roads primarily by altering and increasing the gasoline tax, and by imposing an annual fee on all drivers, including those who drive electric vehicles. They differ on the size of the taxes and fees, but a compromise ought to be attainable.
Proposals by lawmakers and Brown insist on savings from Caltrans. The savings and efficiencies should be real, not window-dressing. Part of any deal also should include clear authorization to extend the cap-and-trade program, if, that is, state policymakers intend to continue with that program.
Originally proposed by free-market advocates, cap and trade is supposed to use market forces to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Its impact on emissions has been theoretical at best. But it has generated real money, which legislators are all too happy to spend.
Brown’s budget anticipates that lawmakers will approve cap and trade by a two-thirds majority, producing $2.2 billion in the coming fiscal year. Some of it would help pay for transportation.
On Tuesday, the California 3rd District Court of Appeal will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit by the California Chamber of Commerce claiming the current cap-and-trade program violates state constitutional provisions that require that taxes and fees be approved by two-thirds votes of the Legislature. Lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 32 of 2006, which led to the cap-and-trade program, by a simple majority vote that was nearly along party lines.
State regulators go through contortions to explain why it’s not a tax. But cap and trade adds 10.3 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Motorists who are aware they pay it understand that it is a cost of driving. As such, legislators ought to approve it by a two-thirds vote.
No one wants to pay more for a gallon of gasoline. But we all depend on roads, and we all have an obligation to pitch in to make them a little less bumpy.